Trending
MOST READ
Easy Green: 10 quick ways to make money in college

Easy Green: 10 quick ways to make money in college

College Issue 2014: Sell clothes. Plato’s Closet is a great place to take your gently worn apparel in exchange for cold, hard cash. They accept clothes, shoes and... By Brittany Minor 8/18/2014
Chris Pérez, Selena’s Husband, Faces His Past and Looks Forward, Musically

Chris Pérez, Selena’s Husband, Faces His Past and Looks Forward, Musically

Music: Chris Pérez never saw it coming. “All I ever wanted to do was play guitar,” he told the Current. “I never thought I’d be the subject of an interview... By Enrique Lopetegui 8/28/2013
Beaches Be Trippin\': Five Texas Coast Spots Worth the Drive

Beaches Be Trippin': Five Texas Coast Spots Worth the Drive

Arts & Culture: Let’s face it, most of us Lone Stars view the Texas coast as a poor man’s Waikiki. Hell, maybe just a poor man’s Panama Beach — only to be used... By Callie Enlow 7/10/2013
Island of Misfit Noise: SKN KVR and Castle Numbskull

Island of Misfit Noise: SKN KVR and Castle Numbskull

Music: Castle Numbskull’s ceiling fans spin on overtime as Jacob of SKN KVR (pronounced skin carver) sets up the assorted junk, contact mics and distortion... By Matt Stieb 10/15/2014
Chris Perez, husband of slain Tejana icon Selena, tells of romance, suffering

Chris Perez, husband of slain Tejana icon Selena, tells of romance, suffering

Arts & Culture: In one of the final chapters of his book To Selena, With Love (out March 6), Selena's widower Chris Perez mentions that Abraham Quintanilla, his former father-in-law, once... By Enrique Lopetegui 3/7/2012
Calendar

Search hundreds of restaurants in our database.

Search hundreds of clubs in our database.

Follow us on Instagram @sacurrent

Print Email

Arts & Culture

‘The Hundred-Year House’ Tells a Ghost Story in Reverse

Photo: Courtesy Photo, License: N/A

Courtesy Photo


Rebecca Makkai’s new novel begins, “For a ghost story, the tale of Violet Saville Devohr was vague and underwhelming.” It’s a surprising first line for the The Hundred-Year House, unsettling even, but it does the job of immediately clarifying that although the beautiful, mysterious original owner of Laurelfield (the titular house) committed suicide in the attic, that is not the story worth telling. Instead, Makkai tells three other totally unique yet intertwined tales of Laurelfield, working her way back through time, before finally offering a glimpse of the tragic Violet Devohr.

The Hundred-Year House begins in 1999, with the return of Zee Devohr, a Marxist literary scholar, to the ancestral home of her wealthy family. Her husband Doug is supposed to be working on a monograph of the obscure poet Edward Parfitt, who stayed at Laurelfield when it was an artists’ colony, but is instead secretly ghostwriting a series of books for tween girls. He becomes obsessed with finding out what happened at the colony, and teams up with his artistic, sympathetic sister-in-law to unravel the mystery. Makkai then turns the story back to 1955, when Zee’s mother Gracie, a Grace Kelly-like Toronto socialite is exiled to Laurelfield with her philandering, alcoholic husband. Lonely and desperate, Gracie spends her time hiding in her own attic, away from the nosy servants and her husband’s cruelty and violence, looking through Laurelfield’s intriguing files. We finally see the colony in its heyday in 1929, when Zee’s grandfather, Gamby Devohr, unexpectedly arrives at Laurelfield to claim his home. The story of the artists’ desperate gamble to save the colony provides the truth behind the mysterious clues discovered by Doug and Gracie.

On the surface, Makkai’s novel is an arch, contemporary take on the “haunted house” mystery trope (a subject on which Zee herself reluctantly teaches, in a class called “The Spirit in the House: Ghosts in the British and American Traditions”). However, the ghost isn’t real, just an ominous portrait on a wall, and the secrets the house hides are all too human.

At times both hilarious and heartbreaking, Makkai creates eccentric characters the reader can’t give up on, even at their very lowest, least likeable points. Makkai’s witty and engrossing writing style belies the nearly Dickensian way she layers characters over time, revealing hidden identities and unknown connections. It is also a very frank story of the lives of working artists and writers: the trade-offs, the losses, the liberation and the need for both community and isolation.

From the opening line to the last, The Hundred-Year House is utterly absorbing. Deceptively light and fast-paced, the story will stay with the reader long after the satisfying conclusion.

The Hundred-Year House

by Rebecca Makkai
Viking Books | $26.95 | 352 pp

We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.
comments powered by Disqus